San Francisco Police Department Commander Peter Walsh on Friday afternoon made one last case for the adoption of Tasers, just hours before the Police Commission was set to vote on whether to arm the SFPD with the stun guns.
The commission’s vote will be the culmination of a tense dialogue between community members, activists and police that has taken place over the last four months about whether officers should carry another use-of-force option — especially amid a nationwide debate around community-police relations.
“We absolutely cannot throw out [Tasers] without community trust,” Walsh said, responding to questions about a report by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission that said 87 percent of those who participated in community input meetings on Tasers opposed their adoption.
“We do have to build that trust,” he added. “That is the most complicated part of any law enforcement agency.”
In the report, Human Rights Commission Executive Director Sheryl Davis recommended that the city wait until the department makes “sustained and substantive progress” on 272 recommendations from the U.S. Department of Justice to reform the department.
Yet Walsh asserted that many of the opponents who contributed to that conclusion were only partially informed.
“I applaud their passion and conviction — they’re very intelligent and very organized, and they’ve read a lot of literature,” he said. “Their opposition to it, I don’t think it is as well-rounded when it comes to research and statistics.”
Asked about the lack of research on the models that the department is looking into, Walsh listed the California law enforcement agencies that have adopted newer models of Tasers — in Richmond, Oakland, Los Angeles and the California Highway Patrol — and said they have deployed Tasers successfully.
“These are premier law enforcement agencies — these are people who do research … and they are not having those issues, to our knowledge,” he said.
He did not mention the September incident in which a man died in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood while in police custody, after officers used a Taser on him as he tried to flee the scene of a car crash.
Regarding a pending lawsuit by a former Houston police officer against the Taser company, which alleges that the newer model’s lower charge could put officers and suspects in more danger, Walsh said that the lawsuit is only a “pleading.”
“It’s going to show you all the worst-case scenarios that happen,” he said.
In that case, lawyers have asked for the internal corporate research on its tests. Those have yet to be released.
Another question raised was the cost of implementing Tasers, which the police department has not yet calculated, but which the Board of Supervisors’ budget analyst pegged at around $8 million.
Walsh said the department has estimated a slightly lower figure in its cost “outlines.”
“We didn’t want to assume we were getting it,” he said.